Carmen and I enjoyed leading a conversation among Rebels at Work who attended our session at SXSW, all of whom worked for organizations with 100 or more people. Making change as an entrepreneur is challenging. Making change inside organizations is difficult, with many more obstacles. Though Twitter crashed during our session, here are some of the Tweets and topics that resonated among the change makers at the session.
Do your organizational homework
- Does your idea actually jive with the values of your organization?
- Rebels at work need to understand what makes the organization work, what actually makes it tick. Listen for the secret code.
- You need to link your ideas to what’s important to the organization and answer the SO WHAT?
- Do your homework: will the idea actually work? And will it work within my organization?
- What ideas most align with your company’s values? Go for a quick win to spur positive change.
Don’t go it alone
- Rebels at work can’t be lone wolves. You need to build support for your ideas. You need 10% of the organization to back you.
- It’s important to do your homework when trying to effect change. Who will support you? Who will join you?
- Rebels don’t do it alone. Find your team when introducing your ideas – the thinker, the doer, the planner.
- Make friends with the Bureaucratic Black Belts.
Getting ideas adopted
- Context, relevancy and emotion create meaning and can help your ideas get adopted.
- Ideas alone are not enough. They need to be followed up with a “so what” and “now what.”
- Change happens in 3 steps: dreaming (coming up with ideas), discovery (external and internal research), and determination (seeing it through)
- Avoid falling in love with your idea. When you're in love with an idea you don't see its flaws.
- Sometimes long-hanging fruit is rotten. (Why the adage of starting with the low-hanging fruit is not always wise.)
Useful habits and behaviors
- Rebels: our velocity scares people. Be patient with people who move slower and bring them along gradually.
- Focus on positivity, and remember that all change starts slowly.
- Rebels need to do homework. Get smart. Expect challenging questions. Know what people want.
- Spend enough time staging your ideas. Sequencing uber important when introducing an idea.
- Sometimes you need to cut your losses.
Conflict and obstacles
- Work for a micro-manager? Figure out if they’re afraid of uncertainty or afraid of risk, and respond accordingly.
- Uncertainty and risk aversion are not the same. Need to understand what’s motivating the fear and get past it.
- How to work with micro-managers: usually they’re insecure about not knowing what’s going on. Build their trust.
- A good question to ask when your idea gets shot down, “ What part of my idea did you like the least?” Opens up conversation.
- Whens someone raises a concern in a meeting, it means they are at least engaged.
- How to get buy in from someone who always says no? Link to something they care about. Develop a relationship with them.
Here is a link to the handout we shared at the session.
An executive in a recent workshop kept hijacking the conversation by saying, “We just don’t have the resources to do that.” Over and over. Which kept stalling the strategy session. Here’s how I got the group unstuck. It might be helpful to you when someone uses the common “Yes, but we don’t have the money/people/time” refrain about new approaches or ideas.
“You all are stretched to the limit,” I said. “And let’s remember that we find resources for priorities that are important to us. Things that aren’t so important don’t get funded. Maybe the real conversation here is that this program just isn’t that important to the company right now. Maybe you should together decide it’s not important, and stop frustrating yourselves by bringing it up at every strategy session.”
Radio silence. (And one executive quietly laughing in acknowledgement.)
The group decided that the issue is important and they figured out a way to get a basic approach working within the next few weeks. It’s not the Cadillac or Four Seasons version, but it begins to provide value and address a real need in the company.
When someone throws objections, get to the real issue and get out of the endlessly frustrating and unproductive " why not" objections.
The guru on the stage was demonstrating his executive coaching approach with an audience volunteer so that the other 800 of us could learn his technique. I knew little about coaching and was curious. This Ivy League university conference seemed like a good place to learn.
The guru started interrogating the woman on the stage with him, cutting her off before she could fully answer his questions, barking that she wasn’t answering his questions, and flippantly responding, “Really? Really?” when she tried to answer the questions.
I couldn’t believe the meanness of it all. So I raised my hand.
Mr. Guru took questions from two people before acknowledging me, both people praising his technique and asking softball questions like, “Do you use the same approach in phone sessions as in-person sessions?”
I stood up and simply said, “ How was that helpful? It seemed intimidating and mean to me.”
Silence grabbed the giant hotel ballroom. Even Mr. Guru was at a loss for words.
He glared at me and gave some innocuous response, adding that he’d be happy to speak to me privately later. He then turned to the sea of people and said that this woman, meaning me, was in error. Because we were so far from the stage we couldn’t observe his body language correctly. If we could see better, we would know that the “young lady’s” comments were off base. (Calling a middle-aged woman a young lady also made my skin crawl; it seemed so condescending.)
There was a break after the role-modeling session. As I made my way to the snacks table people came up to me and said, “Thanks for saying what you did. I felt the same way.”
Conversations ensued and I would guess that’s where some real learning happened.
It’s hard to speak up, especially in a huge crowd, especially when you’re not a “subject matter expert” or you’re early in your career or new with an organization.
What if my questions are dumb, we think.
What if they’re not? What if no one speaks up challenging people who treat others meanly, who use professional practices that seem ill founded, who close down learning and thinking by being smug and sure?
Being a rebel in the workplace doesn’t mean that you need to reinvent your company, create new business models or solve other major challenges.
Sometimes we just need to be the people who are willing to raise our hands and put words to what we and others are feeling.
If not we, who?